I recently turned the page on my kitchen calendar, which means harvest time is nearing. In my travels this past week, I saw one field of shelled corn and several more being chopped for silage.

Despite the weather and pest issues, I am optimistic yield levels will be respectable for most producers. I also understand too much rain in some areas with others lacking will again bring mixed results.

I heard someone talking this week about having the right hammer for the job. I’ll confess I am not a carpenter, but sometimes just having a hammer period was a good thing when I was on the farm. At times, I’ve tried to drive, straighten or pull a nail with a pair of pliers or wrench if that was all I had available when I happened on a fence in need of repair or board replaced.

The luxury of having multiple hammers from which to choose is not a topic I have spent a lot of time. While there is a simple claw hammer, it might be equipped with a straight or curved claw, a wood or fiberglass handle. It might have a curved or flat face. And that is just for nails! I won’t go into metalwork or using a sledge, but there are multiple options there as well.

The hammer analogy relates a bit to nutrient management on your farm. There are many approaches one might take, and some do a better job than others. For example, straight rating a “200-200” DAP/potash blend is perhaps the most basic nutrient application and was used for years to roughly replace the combined crop removals of 150 bushels corn and 50-bushel soybeans. This was an easy solution but didn’t address all the needs of the crop or soils, especially if striving for better yield levels today. Surprisingly, there are still people using these rates common 20 years ago.

A good soil test is the basis for making a good nutrient recommendation. It tells us the potential nutrient supply of the soil, and how much additional fertilizer might be needed for the crop. Traditionally, a composite sample representing 5 or 10 acres, (or more) would be used for whole-field, uniform rate applications. More recently, using geo-referenced points in grid sampling from 1 to 3 acres is common and used for a variable-rate nutrient recommendations. Some might also choose to use zone sampling to define specific areas for unique management applications.

In the absence of a representative soil test, or in conjunction with one, a person could use data from a yield monitor to more accurately replace the nutrient removed by the previous crop. For me, using yield data with a current grid soil test is the ultimate solution when coupled with good equations making the prescriptions.

So, what hammer do you have in your toolbox? Do you make the decisions yourself or rely on your service provider? If you want counsel from an experienced expert in the field, we take that responsibility very seriously. We, along with your FS Crop Specialist, can assist you with recommendations for nutrient management for your farming operation.

Sid Parks serves as GROWMARK senior manager of agronomy technology.